It’s the biggest craze in Thailand.
Life-size dolls believed to possess the spirits of child angels have become popular in recent months.
The dolls, known in Thai as luk thep, are believed to bring good fortune. These dolls are purchased for hundreds of dollars and are blessed by Buddhist monks. Many owners attend to the dolls as if they are their children.
Shops are selling clothing, jewelry and beauty treatments for the dolls. A buffet restaurant in the Thai capital, Bangkok, offers them children's meals.
But the privileges spent on them have also drawn concern and warning from authorities and psychologists in Thailand.
Nattasuda Taephant is director of psychological wellness at Chulalongkorn University. She says if the dolls help their owners feel better, then the fad is rather harmless.
"But if it crosses the boundary of reality, and they believe they can talk to the luk thep doll, that would be something concerning in terms of mental health," she said.
Thai mental health officials have issued an appeal for people to stick to mainstream religious values and reject such unbelievable things. But the belief is rooted in ancient Southeast Asian superstitions.
Traditionally, when babies were stillborn, some spiritual leaders in Thailand and other countries in the region took the babies away. They roasted the bodies, blessed them, and covered them in gold leaf. In Thailand, such household divine effigies are known as kuman thong for male figures and hong phrai for female ones.
The practice has mostly stopped. But the dolls might represent a return to a more superstitious age.
"I'm really wondering how part of Thai society has come to this point," said Sermsuk Kasitpradit, a veteran editor and popular blogger.
"As a Buddhist I am feeling much shame as it is totally against the teaching of our Lord Buddha who preached not to believe in superstition," Sermsuk told VOA.
Others worry that the modern incarnations may be put to evil use, according to authorities.
Nearly 200 "yaba" methamphetamine pills were found Monday stuffed into the chest of a girl doll. The doll had been placed in a suitcase for retrieval in the airport at Chiang Mai, said police Lt. Col. Kom Chetkhuntod.
Another police official said the dolls give criminals "a new way to smuggle drugs, into the country. Now, all officers at airport and border checkpoint are instructed to screen dolls.
Police officers on Tuesday carried out raids in Bangkok against doll vendors suspected of avoiding import taxes.
Three vendors were arrested and authorities seized more than 100 luk thep dolls, mostly imported from China.
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
Steve Herman reported on this story for VOANews.com. Marsha James adapted the report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
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Words in This Story
fortune – n. the good and bad things that happen to someone
fad – n. something that is very popular for a short time
boundary – n. something that shows where an area ends and another area begins
superstition –n. a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck
effigy – n. an image of a person
incarnation – n. one of a series of lives that a person is believed to have had in the past in some religions